Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thrice AAA
By Michael

Shaun grinding off the towing bracket
welded to the frame. Who pulls an
F-250 around?
You don’t need a truck to rebuild a house—over a decade we spent rebuilding our Washington, D.C. home I hauled thousands of pounds of concrete, tile, flagstone, sheathing, shingles, lumber, sand, and lots more in a 1999 Ford Escort Wagon. But I knew a truck would make life easier this time around, especially because Ajo is a 2-hour drive from the nearest Home Depot. So while in California, we got a truck.

Our budget was small ($3,000) and our truck had to have a proper back seat for the girls. I called on more than a dozen trucks I found on Craigslist. It seemed all there were in my price range were high-mileage, 15-year-old, gas-powered trucks with automatic transmissions. I just knew the one I bought would blow a rod or start slipping gears on the way to Arizona. My brother-in-law, Shaun, and I were out looking at yet another, a couple hours from his house, when he spotted an interesting truck on his phone, two more hours out of our way. It was almost 30 years old, but under the hood was an International diesel connected to a standard transmission.

We got to Bakersfield well after dark.

I bought it, from the original owner, a 1988 Ford F-250 Lariat. There were only 160,000 miles on the odometer, but the truck had been sitting for a while and the tires were old. Otherwise, everything worked. The plan was to drive 100 miles home and the next day buy new tires, change the fluids, load up, say goodbye to my sister and her family, and head to Ajo.

Shaun drove the giant truck and I followed in my rental car. Twenty-five miles out of Bakersfield, cruising along on I-5 in the middle of nowhere, my headlights caught debris flying out from under my new truck. Shaun pulled to the shoulder. The driver’s side rear tire had given up the ghost—specifically, it gave up a 2-foot section of heavy tread. But it didn’t give it up willingly. The tread hung on at 70 mph and whipped around, grabbing the struts on either side of the wheel well and pulling in and distorting the fender. It grabbed the heavy metal fuel filler for the rear tank and mangled it and ripped it from its fender housing, ripping off the cap and distorting everything so badly that even the fuel door hug cock-eyed. Diesel trickled onto the pavement. It was hard to believe that a tire could do this damage.

Do you know where Ford stows the jack on a 1988 Ford F-250? I didn’t find out until days later.

So we called AAA to put on our spare, which is hilarious because not only are Shaun and I do-it-yourselfers, Shaun is the kind of guy who builds hard-core trucks from the ground up in his garage.

We didn’t get back to his house until after midnight.

The next day, I got new tires put on and Shaun got to work repairing the damage. The following day, Windy and I drove to L.A. to return the rental car. On the 10 freeway in Santa Monica, a mile from PCH, cruising along with the cruise control set, the truck died.

I called AAA and had it towed to the Ford dealer. They have only one diesel mechanic and it was 3 long days before the service manager could finally tell us it was the fuel pump.

“How much?”


I looked online. A replacement mechanical fuel pump is $30.

I called AAA and had them tow the truck back to my sister’s house. It took Shaun and me a few hours to replace the pump.

She runs like a champ, off to start working on a house in Ajo.


Somewhere en route to Ajo.

Shaun welding a bracket inside the rear fuel filler space,
damaged during the de-treading.

Eleanor welding the seam in the rear gate. Turns out she's pretty
good. Her 6-inch-long bead was straight, clean, exactly on target.

Frances waiting for us to finally get underway.
This was our first tow and second AAA call during the first
week of ownership. Just a little thing though.


  1. Love it! Please keep documenting this new journey, I love following along. Good luck on the next step, whatever that might be.

  2. Love the truck! I'm in the market for something similar in the next few months. We are buying a property we can come back to from cruising and run our business from. Remodeling and building will be involved. Bummer on the tire episode, but great your bro in law and daughter could help fix the damage!

  3. Great truck! We had the same one, 1986 version, when we lived in the woods when the girls were little. We also shared it with a lot of mice. I'll never forget when they popped out of the dash vents to say hello while we were all cruising down the 101 one day. Real glad I wasn't the one doing the driving. Happy Christmas!! XO to you all!

  4. You started off with a bang! We had a flat tire on our Sprinter pretty shortly after we got it back to Maine. AAA to the rescue!


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